A century of bloodshed between warring star systems has plunged nearly 200 worlds into the flames of war. Now, an uneasy truce has settled across the Astragius Galaxy...
Chirico Cuvie, a special forces powered-armor pilot is suddenly transferred into a unit engaged in a secret and highly illegal mission to steal military secrets—from their own military! Now he's on the run...from his own army!
Unsure of his loyalties and to cover their own tracks, Chirico is left behind to die in space. Surviving by luck, the renegade is now hunted by both the conspirators and military intelligence.
He is driven by the haunting image of a mysterious and beautiful woman—the objective of their mission, and his sole clue to unraveling their treacherous scheme. But the conspirators will do anything to preserve their mysterious agenda...
This particular mecha series, directed by Ryosuke Takahashi (Gasaraki, Silent Service), was an early pioneer of the 'realistic mecha' sub-genre, coming out right on the heels of Tomino's Gundam tv series, and it features heavily Takahashi's interest in the interior 'realm' of the soldier. Chirico Cuvie is a superb leading character, although the relationship element does feel somewhat forced. Of the four story arces, the weakest is the first, but the middle two, especially 'Dead World Susna' are particularly good. Not as wordy as Takahashi's later Gasaraki, but its still got a brain, which is a refreshing
change from certain anime that will not be named at this time. The animation holds up fairly well, but does have the limitations of its 'on-the-cheap' age, while three recaps are placed where they don't disrupt the overall story. The sound is generally poor, but this is to be expected of series nearly 30 years old. The mecha designs are classics of 'realistic design', but the character designs are not the greatest.
Highly recommended for fans of sci-fi, mecha and action, but non-mecha fans may not find as much to like.
When it comes to mecha anime, finding a series that has had enough fortune to blossom into a franchise is incredibly rare. Gundam obviously takes first place and will likely never be dethroned with its massive amount of material. Yet, despite this gap the Macross franchise holds a relatively high second place. Lagging even further behind, although still a commendable achievement, is Armored Trooper Votoms.
ATV is hardly a hit series, but many of whom have seen it claim it as a classic and one of the best of the mecha genre. My curiosity piqued early on in my knowledge of it, and due to that
and my interest in mecha anime history I had enough of a reason to give it a shake.
Chirico Cuvie is the main character of Votoms. Hell, Chirico IS Votoms. He's the only character at the center of the storyline, and everything revolves around him. This is his story. Rarely have I seen an anime so dominated by one character, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. Chirico isn't a very unique personality. He's the (now) typical silent badass type who goes from being a loner jerk to a swell guy, although he never gets any more talkative or expressive. The thing that makes Chirico, thus Votoms in general, distinctive from other mecha anime tropes is that he pilots a standard grunt mech for the vast majority of the series. He doesn't rely on any handicaps and instead wins his unfavorable match-ups through sheer skill and intuition. While he succeeds most of the time simply through greater reflexes, the times when he has to use his brain are a real joy to watch and what cement him as a popular character that stands out among the usual stereotype. Though simple, there's something admirable about his attitude. When something has to be done, he simply gets it done. Surprisingly endearing and likable even though he has less dialogue than some supporting characters in an episode.
This level of realism is only scratching the surface with Votoms, though. The greatest thing to this anime is how unusually down to earth it is. Getting back to the mechs themselves, they're really just bipedal tanks that use entirely ammo-based weaponry, skates to move faster, and explode with little damage (often unintentionally comic). There are no beam swords here, no barrier fields, no high-speed rocket boosters. Just hard science. Sure there are space battleships and genetic engineering, but that's as plausible as any sci-fi could possibly get while still being fictitious.
The characters themselves are almost all business too, between the stoic Chirico and the formal military factions he's on the run from. The only comic relief comes from three perpetual tag-alongs by the names of Gotho, Vanilla, and Coconna. I don't dislike these characters, but I do dislike how much screen time they get considering their unimportance. These three are all civilians and are essentially involved with Chirico's life only by chance, especially considering they just run into him a lot over and over. They never pilot an AT, and they contribute very little to the story based on any unique talents, instead moving things along only as plot devices to be captured or save Chirico when he's captured through a generic rescue plan. Not to mention their light-hearted existence screws with the series's tone, so they can occasionally drag the whole experience somewhere it's better off not being.
Other constant characters include Chirico's love interest Fyana, a character that actually starts out as a good female representation by being one of the best pilots in the series and kicking copious amounts of ass, but ends up never piloting again halfway through the third arc for some reason and has 80% of her lines consist of yelling "Chirico!" Rochina is an army general after Chirico, and it seems like he has some ulterior motives, but this is never enough to render his character interesting until the final arc where said motivations are finally revealed (and are still underwhelming).
And that's really it for Votoms characters. The series mainly has a revolving cast of characters that range from barely being relevant to vanishing completely, and sometimes they show up again later to fulfill a new task but little else. This is unfortunate, because two of the greatest characters are Ypsilon and Kan Yu, and they're not around for the whole series.
Let me touch real quick on one of the better aspects of Votoms: the battles. You could easily call Votoms an action series first and foremost, so there are a ton of battles throughout the series. As if to fulfill some kind of quota, you're pretty much guaranteed at least one per episode. Since Chirico is almost always the only AT pilot on his side, these battles often consist of Chirico severally outnumbered against several grunts. Despite the low budget, the frames are well-drawn and it's pretty easy to tell what's going on throughout the fast-paced cutaways. Even though Chirico is outnumbered, the grunts aren't shown just standing around as cannon fodder and actually make an effort to attack him - but they're just never good enough. Chirico is such a godly pilot that a threat of him losing quickly stops existing, and since the Votoms mechs are so basic in design there's a low amount of variety possible in the fights. Like said before, the fights where Chirico wins by outsmarting his opponent(s) rather than outperforming them are something to be treasured, as the latter quickly become repetitive and predictable.
Returning to Ypsilon, this is what makes him such a necessary character for the series. Ypsilon is not only the first regular antagonist that can compete with Chirico; he's the first unique enemy AT pilot period. It takes 13 episodes for him to show up, but when he does we're finally given a reason to start paying attention to the fight scenes again. We now have a personal interest in the battles since Chirico's not just fighting faceless grunts anymore and he has a believable chance at losing to this new rival. Sadly, Ypsilon still isn't around for as long as such an important character should be, and his character arc never really goes much of anywhere, since Chirico is basically the only character that really noticeably changes.
The second best antagonist is Kan Yu, who isn't a skilled pilot by any means, but is entertaining in how he's one of the most genuinely pitiful antagonists ever. He's not an evil guy so much as a weak-willed douche with a major inferiority complex. I genuinely felt bad for him, and it's rare to get a villain that elicits that emotion in any capacity. Again, he should've been used more than he was.
Other common antagonists are Serge Borough, who is just a generically selfish evil guy, and his subordinates, the Schmittel twins. Borough is nothing special, but the Schmittel twins's cold coyness is delightfully eerie and makes them the most entertaining of Votom's behind-the-scenes desk villains that rarely interact with Chirico directly.
It's well-known that a lot of early mecha anime would often come close to the 50 episode mark, and it's well-agreed that a lot of these series consisted of a lot of filler due to their episodic nature. Does Votoms fall victim to the same? Well, yes and no. See, Votoms has an overarching plot that's constantly moving, but the pace of it is sometimes unbearable and you can sit through a whole 20 minute episode and only get 10 seconds of information that's seemingly relevant to the main storyline. In other words, the main storyline serves as a framework to individual storyline arcs. It's good to know this going in, because Votoms hits you with a lot of mysteries right off the bat, and due to how long the series is and how slowly these mysteries are explained you might expect the answers to have some shocking payoff. They don't. Despite building a lot of intrigue for it, Votoms shouldn't be watched expecting a great main storyline and instead viewers should just give their full interest to the four 13~ episode arcs that make up the series.
The absolute peak of Votoms is the second (Kunmen) arc for several reasons. One, it revolves around a Vietnam-like setting with guerilla warfare and some actual battle and touchy political strategies. Two, it introduces both Ypsilon and Kan Yu, two of the series's rare stand-out characters. Third and last, Chirico fights alongside some other regular AT pilots that help fill out the small cast while also feeling important for the arc they're around in, as well as adding more dialogue during the battles. The final (Quaint) arc represents the worst of Votom's plot. It focuses entirely on the main storyline but you're given answers barely any quicker, and like I said earlier, these answers are pretty underwhelming and don't change your existing perspective of the series, plot, and characters.
Before I close, I'd like to mention how ATV has one of the best opening themes ever, and the episode preview narrations are incredible and have some of the most quotable lines I've ever seen in an anime. Go figure.
That about summarizes how I feel about Armored Trooper Votoms. There are actually some really great concepts here, particularly in the series's loyalty to realism that I haven't seen matched by any other mecha, but the general execution, meaning the snail pacing, two-dimensional characters, and simple plot leave something to be desired when compared to the much more robust and emotionally affecting Mobile Suit Gundam and Super Dimension Fortress Macross contemporaries.
There are things in Votoms to love, however. Like I said, it's maintained a damn strong cult following, and possible viewers with an interest in retro western science fiction would probably have a much greater interest in it than I and I implore them to check the series out. The series also wasn't very dialogue-heavy, making it an easy and often relaxing watch. If Votoms had its episode count cut by 15 or so, I'd probably give it a higher rating. As it stands, this is a mecha series that I think would only greatly appeal today to a specific kind of sci-fi fan, although there is still enough fun left for any mecha/sci-fi fan.
Characters: Chirico, the main character gets the most development and screen time. He is 100% man, but not bulging with muscles like several other 80s protagonists. He instead displays his worth through his vicious combat skills. At first he comes off as stoic and flat, but evolves over time and the show does a good job of considering the hell that he has been through beforehand and showing the effect it has on his personality. Next comes a certain character introduced in the 2nd arc. He is basically a two-note character, and both of his plot points are brought up and not resolved repetitively through
the middle of the series, the show can't seem to breath much creativity again until his role is scaled back. The rest of the large supporting cast is fine. More often than not they are used as comic relief throughout the crushing grittiness, but this is a realistic depiction of people joking under pressure and coupled with the times when they act serious (very serious), gives them realistic personalities. They help flesh out Chirico and are the closest thing to an audience surrogate that the show has. Despite being in the real robot genre, the show does keep partial status quo when it comes to keeping important characters alive; I say partial because it subverts this idea often enough to convince you that anyone can die, which is true.
Story: The story is divided into four separate, but connected arcs. While character interactions and large scale events affect the plot as a whole, most conflicts set up in each one are resolved by the end of the arc. Each arc sets out with different themes to spread and goals to accomplish, some with more success than others. The story is really the meat of the show, it deserves the most in-depth examination. Arc 1: A tale of a cyberpunk city and urban crime... with robots. The show does a fine job of exploring the various facets of a futuristic postwar environment, from what those who partake in the war do afterwards, to the government's role in society, and more. Several different scenarios and fights involving mechs take place, and all seem different from one another. Downsides of the arc include some rather overused plot elements appear (corrupt police, biker gangs, etc.), and while they are handled well enough, it doesn't match up to other creative concepts used throughout the show. Also the series spanning-plot is just beginning to be set into motion, so some episodes feel insignificant in the long run. Where the plot movement is sacrificed though, the show takes the time to form relationships between its supporting cast and the protagonist . Arc 2: Essentially the Vietnam war... with robots. It doesn't follow the historical event by numbers, but it's obvious the staff didn't have to think too hard to come up with a lot of the events that transpire in this arc. Despite this, the plot remains compelling for the most part until a certain character is introduced around half way through; they are the only character in the show I have any strong criticisms against, as mentioned above, while the first few plot points involving this character are fine, it becomes clear that these events are leading nowhere and begin to repeat themselves. As the plot stumbles, this arc has the most varied mech battles of the entire series, due the all the different terrain presented in the setting. Robot guerilla warfare and futuristic D-Day among them, but there is really too much to cover. Arc 3: The 3rd arc is the most distinct of the four, take that as you wish; I take it as being the weakest arc, while others may appreciate it's boldness and deviation from the others. Although there was no direct transition from the first to the second arc, it felt organic enough and didn't leave the viewer confused. However, the 2nd to 3rd arc transition is jarring, at first feels contrived, and is left unexplained for a while. The first half of the arc drags; it begins with a good idea of characterization and mystery, but is poorly executed and continues to be poorly executed for far too long. Once the plot begins to "move", it is plagued by the circular and plot-halting interactions with the character introduced in the second arc. While the arc's story may be interesting alone, it has little affect on the overall plot until the very end. Arc 4: This is the most plot oriented arc. Some would say that is a given since it is the last, but it ties together all unanswered and loose aspects of the plot thus far in the most original fashion thus far, and wraps up or answers them, including things you would expect the show to just wave their hand at or never address. This can be called convenient, but all comes off as plausible given the circumstances, and demonstrates the show's dedication to staying "real" to the real robot genre. The character whom causes the previous arcs to sag has less of a role, and enjoyable side characters from previous arcs return. There is some great futuristic imagery/scenery, and the show really captures the scale of the events that go down. The ending is bittersweet, but truly fits the character they have built over the previous 52 episodes and is wholly satisfying.
Sound: It's typical sound for an 80s show, so the sound is nothing special. It never sounds particularly bad, but doesn't excel either. It's best used in the 4th arc to create a foreign atmosphere that is supposed to be beyond the audience's comprehension. The music is equally mediocre (and repetitive).
Animation: Likewise, it has typical 80s animation. They never cut corners on mech warfare, explosions, or settings though, those are consistent throughout and sometimes really good. Characters occasionally look less unrefined than they did moments before or a space ship suddenly appears ridiculously out of perspective in its last moments in a frame (which would just be replaced with equally out of place CG if made today, keep in mind), but this never lasts for too long until the last 3 terribly off model minutes of the last episode, which I would assume is because the budget was blown animating the visually innovative 322 minutes of the arc that came before.
Other: The setting is always well considered, and most locations are areas not typically present in mecha anime. The technology is also really where this show shines. The robots are machines, plain and simple. They break down, and need maintenance. They can be modified, but no less than your average car can be pimped out. Real robot shows have bad habit of eventually reaching super robot territory or creating increasingly powerful mechs to move along with the rising stakes of the plot, but even the most advanced robots still have apparent weaknesses, and take damage over time. They are not the solution to everything; tools of more traditional warfare are still used frequently. It feels like as much time was spent developing the technology as the story, and really gives the show an aura of realism, even when the plot decides not to be. The pacing will take some getting used to. Unlike modern long shows, this just extends every plot point rather than resorting to filler. The 3rd arc could be cut be at least half, and in general all the others could be condensed by two or three episodes. The script is delicately cared for. The standard dialogue is relatively realistic and no stock phrases are used, and the writing really shines in the narration, Chirico's inner monologues, and the anime's more philosophical moments; these often feel like they're straight out of a two fisted pulp novel and can really speak to the viewer.
Overall: This mecha anime is quite off the beaten path. Not every idea presented in it works, but such a wide variety of them are used and explored that some are bound to resonate with the viewer. Armored Trooper Votoms is held back in several departments simply due to the time it was made in, so some shortcomings can be forgiven easier than others, but the technical lapses are often overshadowed by the tremendous amount of thought put into the story and technology, levels which are usually only seen in the best of the best anime. It is not the best of the best anime, but when one part of the show begins to decline (the story, fight scenes, characters), one of the other aspects tends to strengthen and pull the show's remaining weight. It definitely seems better as a whole rather than analyzing the individual parts, and can be quite enjoyable if given a chance. Acknowledging all the criticisms, the show succeeds much more than it fails and is quite impressive.
Those looking for a real robot military mecha anime with an underlining plot devoted to the characters and not the war, look no further than Armored Trooper Votoms. It was created and directed by Sunrise’s most renowned director and helped pioneer the real robot genre, Ryosuke Takahashi. Mechanical designs were headed by none other than Kunio Okawara himself. This is the man to thank for many of the super- and real-robot mechs such as Gundams, Votoms, and even Yatterman.
Takahashi tends to focus further on developing inside of a soldiers head, and is seen more in his later works. In the case of the main protagonist
pilot, Chirico Cuvie, he is a survivor soldier over the 100 year war between the two leading nations, the Gilgamesh and the Balarant. During a mission gone south, Chirico’s life is turned upside down and becomes a hunted man.
Over the course the four arcs of the show is split between, Chirico slowly develops his cold and reserved personality, and also begins to fight some post trauma over the war. He is constantly wondering why he seeks gunpowder and death, what his life would be without war, and thoughts a soldier would deal with if having to re-live events he/she wants to forget.
The pace of this 52 episode series starts fast, but unfortunately slows down from the original fast-paced action and development after the first arc. In the second arc, the show diverts to understanding the universe that Chirico lives in and wondering why he fights. Then, in the third arc, the story really slows down. However, the plot finally starts to come together in a way that makes sense. It starts to divert from the non-stop action, and focus primarily on the story. Finally, the fourth arc hits, and things take a very strange turn. A turn in a way where the viewer could be mad, confused, more questions than answers, and more. The action then just feels forced in a way just take up extended screen time. This was seen more and more starting at the second arc, but now it’s more redundant.
It’s an old mech series, and while the art is fairly gritty and the music is bland, AT Votoms has good action sequences, and a developing main character from the progression of the plot. Coming off of the heels of MSG and Macross, this is only a slight step down, but still a good overall anime.
Welcome to the land of futuristic drama where humans have evolved to cyborgs, computer viruses are the norm of the day and war has completely destroyed the lands. The terminator franchise no longer seems funny, does it?